The measure of any good talent evaluator is not only to be able to determine where a player is currently, but also to project where a player will be in the future. In Tom Callahan’s book, The GM, which detailed the life and career former Giants GM Ernie Accorsi, one of the few things that stuck with me was when Accorsi stated he’d rather be accused of getting rid of a player a year too early, rather than a year too late.
And it’s that statement that leads me to believe that the Falcons should part ways with Michael Turner this off-season.
While to the naked eye, they will see that Turner had a higher yards per carry (4.5 vs. 4.1) in 2011 than he did in 2010, had career highs in receptions (17), 40-yard runs (4), and had as many 20 yard runs (11) as he did in 2008, and think that Turner had a really good season. But that is not really the case for the keener eye.
Turner certainly had his share of moments, but this season was another illustration of the fact that he has been trending downwards ever since he got here to Atlanta. No stat better illustrates this than Pro Football Focus Breakaway stat. Turner finished second in the league with the percentage of rushing attempts he had this year go for 15 yards or more. That is a good thing. But what is more telling is to look at how well Turner does on the runs where he doesn’t break it for 15 yards.
This past year, Turner’s “non-breakaway” yards per carry was 2.71 and ranked 54th out of the 56 running backs with 87 or more carries this year, finishing only ahead of Chris Johnson and Montario Hardesty. And when you look at Turner’s production there over the years, it has been trending downwards.
Turner's Non-Breakaway Rushing
What this means is that Turner is increasingly becoming a running back that either breaks a long run or a two-yard gain. This is often the hallmark of smaller, explosive backs like Johnson that can potentially break a long gain (or hit a homerun) on any given carry. But for power backs like Turner, they need to be guys that can more consistently hit singles and doubles every time they touch the ball. And that chart illustrates that Turner is moving further and further away from being this type of rusher.
It would be easy to simply blame the blocking up front as one of the reasons for Turner’s decreasing production but given this has been a steady trend since Turner arrived here, that excuse is tentative at best.
Michael Turner is going to turn 30 in three weeks and will be making $5 million in base salary this season. And when you evaluate where Michael Turner is currently, he still looks like a solid NFL running back that is coming off a 1340-yard season. But when you project where he is going to be a year from now, things don’t look like they are getting better. He still might manage to get 1000 yards next year, but it’s only going to be increasingly more evident that he’s a shell of the former runner he was.
This downward trend that Turner is currently experiencing happens with all running backs at a certain point. And it’s definitely understandable for Turner specifically due to the number of times he’s had to tote the rock and the number of tackles he’s broken and hits he’s absorbed over the past four years. He’s older, slower, and doesn’t run with the same authority and power on a consistent basis as he once did.
The time is ripe for the Falcons to move on and try insert another younger back into the fold that can bring fresh legs and potentially be the type of runner that Turner was in 2008. Is that player currently on the roster? Probably not. While I’m high on Jacquizz Rodgers and hopeful that new OC Dirk Koetter can bring out some of the Maurice Jones-Drew qualities to his game in the coming years, I’m not expecting him to suddenly become the league’s top rusher like MJD was this past year. But I certainly think that Rodgers in conjunction with another good, young back could be a very productive pair of backs like the Jaguars had under Koetter in 2007 with Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor.
And it’s clear that Turner is no longer that type of player, and it makes the most sense in my eyes that this team cut him, save the $2 or so million against the cap, and invest their time and money into finding a player who is that guy.